Today more than ever, video games are for everyone. There are those that are great for young and old alike, releases that are perfect for families to play together, and those that explore very adult themes.
That diversity of content is what makes games such an accessible, universal medium. But it equally means that not every game is suitable for every player. That is why we have age ratings in the UK. They provide information for players, parents and guardians, and make sure people of every age enjoy games that are appropriate, giving them the opportunity to enjoy all the benefits available.
There are numerous benefits to playing games, of course. While simple escapism can be powerfully helpful, games can also educate, improve social skills, connect families, offer physical health benefits, engage children with creativity and literacy, and inspire remarkably rewarding careers.
Games’ ability to offer brilliant gains for their players doesn’t mean they are universally positive in their influence. It’s possible to play games for too long, spend too much money on games that appear to be free, and engage with games that offer content unsuitable for young consumers.
That’s why TIGA has created this accessible guide to game ratings, the impact of playing games, and understanding how some games’ use your money. We’ve written it with parents in particular in mind, because sometimes it can feel like your kids know more than you about games, making it tricky to be sure they enjoy the best of what the medium can offer. The insights below will make it all the easier to see that happens.

Video game age-ratings offer a simple, clear means to let you know what audience a game is suitable before in terms of the themes of its content, as well as what those themes might be.

In the UK game age-ratings are regulated by an organisation called PEGI – the Pan European Game Information group. It is the sole age rating body for video gaming in the UK, and it is also used across Europe.

PEGI ratings are double tiered. That means they state an age, and also provide additional information which make buying decisions easier. It is essential to understand that not all games are made for children. Some games are perfect for all ages, some favour youngsters, and others are absolutely adult in theme.

The ratings are as follows:

• PEGI 3 – suitable for those aged three and above

• PEGI 7 – suitable for those aged seven and above

• PEGI 12 – suitable for those aged 12 and above

• PEGI 16 – suitable for those aged 16 and above

• PEGI 18 – suitable for those aged 18 and above

So a PEGI 7 game is only suitable for those aged seven and above, while a PEGI 18-rated game is only suitable for adults aged 18 and above.  And PEGI 18 games are rated at the level for a reason. Their content will be just as unsuitable for a child as an 18-rated film or even adult content.

It’s important to note that he PEGI age rating considers the age suitability of a game; not the level of difficulty or complexity. You might, for example, see a complicated simulation or a high strategy city-building game with a PEGI 3 rating.  That will likely mean it has no content that would be disturbing to a child, but it could still be far too complex for a three-year-old. To find out how complex the game is, you can look for reviews online, in papers and magazines, or – increasingly – as videos.

The second tier of the PEGI ratings are listed alongside the age-ratings, and provide broad insights into the themes that have prompted the rating. Some games will have more than one theme listed. The second tier themes are:

Violence – Game contains depictions of violence

Bad language – Game contains bad language

Fear – Game may be frightening or scary for young children

Sex – Game depicts nudity and/or sexual behaviour, or sexual references

Gambling – Games that encourage or teach gambling

Drugs – Game refers to or depicts the use of drugs

Discrimination – Game contains depictions of, or materials which may encourage, discrimination

Online – Online game 

Additionally, some titles also feature the BBFC rating logos famously seen on films. As with the PEGI ratings, BBFC ratings provide helpful guides for parents when making decisions about appropriate content.

Tips for parents

The age ratings provided by PEGI are legally enforceable, but ultimately offer a guide, and parents and guardians will still have to make their own decisions in the home about what is suitable. You may feel, for example, that due to a past experience a 12-rated game will not be appropriate for your 13-year-old child. By becoming more familiar with how the ratings work, you will be better able to judge suitability. 

And there is much you can do to help inform your decision.

Here are some tips:

  • Of course, always look for the age classification on the game package or via the internet.
  • Try to look for a summary or review of the game content, or ideally play the game yourself first. Games are often playable in stores, at events, or via downloadable demos.
  • Play video games with your children, watch over them when they play, and talk with them about the games they play. Explain why you feel certain games are not suitable.
  • Be aware that online games sometimes enable the download of extra software that can alter the game content, and possibly the age classification of the game.
  • Understand that online games are usually played in virtual communities, requiring players to interact other real people over internet. Sometimes those other players will be real-life friends, but in most cases they will be strangers.
  • Tell your children not to give out personal details in games, and encourage them to report inappropriate behaviour to you. This can be passed on to the game’s creators via their website, or even within the game itself
  • Set the limits by using the parental control tools of the game console or pc[WF1] .

Health

Anything done to excess can be bad for you, and video games are no exception. Sometimes even a long gaming session can be rewarding, but when it constantly comes at the expense of work, study, sleep, eating, socialising or physical activity, there may be a problem worth addressing. When played as part of a balanced life, however, games are enriching and rarely pose danger to health.

With regard to health, some aspects of gaming should be noted – not least Nintendo’s warning that children under the age of six should avoid playing on the Nintendo 3DS console, and the various manufacturers’ warnings about youngsters using some VR headsets. But with 33.5 million people in the UK now playing video games, 22% of whom are under 18, perceptions are changing, and more and more people are seeing how games can be beneficial to their users.

Today there is  increasing evidence that playing video games can have health benefits to children and adults alike:

  • The most in-depth research into game violence, which took previous study methods out of laboratory, has found no significant long term link between playing video games and violent real word behaviour.
  • A wide variety of research into pllaying video games has been found to bring therapeutic advantages to youngsters, improve motor skills, better vision, provide pain relief, and even bolster happiness in the elderly.
  • Recent research has also found that playing video games may well improve children’s social skills and developing intelligence.
  • Dr Tanya Byron’s high profile government-commissioned report Safer Children in a Digital World – otherwise known as The Byron Review – found no casual link between playing violent video games and violence in real life.

Online Games and In-App Purchases

F2P games can be of great value to consumers and developers alike. This is because the F2P business model allows consumers to play extremely high quality games entirely free before actually spending any money. A report published by TIGA in 2013 showed that typically 95 per cent of consumers playing a F2P game don’t spend any money at all.

However, it is important that the video games industry adheres to high standards. The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) (now the Competition Markets Authority) has developed a set of Principles for Online and App-based Games with which all games businesses selling games to UK consumers have had to comply with since April 1st 2014. The eight principles have been developed after extensive consultation with TIGA, games businesses and other interested parties. They ensure that consumers, particularly children, are protected from commercially dubious practices.

The CMA has published a short guide providing advice to parents and carers about these games. See: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/buying-features-in-online-games-advice-for-parents-and-carers

The eight principles are:

  1. The costs associated with playing should be clear, accurate and displayed “prominently up-front” before a consumer plays.
  2. All other material information about a game should also be clear, accurate and displayed “prominently up-front” before a consumer plays.
  3. Information about the games business should also be provided to the consumer, including whom they ought to contact in case of queries.
  4. In-game promotion of extra paid-for content and the promotion of other products or services should be clear, distinguishable from gameplay and the explanation should be tailored to the consumer’s age.
  5. A game should not give a false impression that payments are required or are an integral part of the way a game is played if that is incorrect.
  6. Games should not include aggressive practices, or those otherwise having the potential to exploit children’s inexperience, vulnerability or credulity.
  7. A game should not include direct exhortations to children to make a purchase or persuade others to make a purchase for them.
  8. Payments should not be taken from the payment account holder unless expressly authorised.purchase for them.

Free-to-play and in-app-purchases

Most games require some money to play. Traditionally that meant one upfront cost when buying a game over the counter at a shop. After buying the game, no more money was required. That still exists, both with boxed physical releases, and with downloadable games. Today, these games are often referred to as ‘premium’ games. 

Increasingly though, it is easy to find games that are offered for ‘free’, but then provide extra at a cost. This is very common, but not exclusive to, mobile game releases. The most common method sees players able to progress faster by spending some money. A game may ask for payment to acquire extra lives, to use more powerful characters, to fast forward a timer preventing player progress, or to buy fictional ‘in-game currency’ that can then be used for certain in-game abilities. This model is called ‘free-to-play’; often shortened to ‘F2P’.

There is nothing inherently wrong with free-to-play, and many such games are ethical, trustworthy and not exploitative. Indeed, a report published by TIGA in 2013 showed that typically 95 per cent of consumers playing a F2P game don’t spend any money at all. But it can often be possible, however, to spend huge amounts over time on such games, and it is not unknown for children – innocently or otherwise – to spend significant sums of their parents’ money on a game that is understood by those adults to be ‘free’. This often happens when parents give their children their device passwords. Some mobile games have been accused of encouraging children to spend their parents’ cash.

However, the video games industry has recognised that it must adhere to high standards where free-to-play is concerned. The Office of Fair Trading, or OFT (now the Competition Markets Authority) has developed a set of Principles for Online and App-based Games with which all games businesses selling games to UK consumers have had to comply with since April 1st 2014. The eight principles have been developed after extensive consultation with TIGA, games businesses and other interested parties. They ensure that consumers, particularly children, are protected from commercially dubious practices.

The CMA has published a short guide providing advice to parents and carers about these games. See: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/buying-features-in-online-games-advice-for-parents-and-carers

The eight principles are:

  • The costs associated with playing should be clear, accurate and displayed “prominently up-front” before a consumer plays.
  • All other material information about a game should also be clear, accurate and displayed “prominently up-front” before a consumer plays.
  • Information about the games business should also be provided to the consumer, including whom they ought to contact in case of queries.
  • In-game promotion of extra paid-for content and the promotion of other products or services should be clear, distinguishable from gameplay and the explanation should be tailored to the consumer’s age.
  • A game should not give a false impression that payments are required or are an integral part of the way a game is played if that is incorrect.
  • Games should not include aggressive practices, or those otherwise having the potential to exploit children’s inexperience, vulnerability or credulity.
  • A game should not include direct exhortations to children to make a purchase or persuade others to make a purchase for them.
  • Payments should not be taken from the payment account holder unless expressly authorized purchase for them.

There are equally other ways games can make money outside the premium or free-to-play models, or that combine the two. Games both premium and free sometimes offer paid-for extra content; perhaps a set of extra levels or new abilities for player characters. This is often called ‘In-App Purchasing, or IAP. These terms are not hard and fast, however, and you will certainly see the F2P model described as including IAP.

Equally, both free and premium games are today regularly updated over the internet in a way that is truly free. These updates may simply fix problems the players have found, or add regular new content.

And there are, of course, entirely free games. Some of these are funded by including adverts. Many games played in web browsers, however, are both ad-free and truly free. That’s not true for every browser game, though.

The best solution to addressing this complexity? Do some research before letting your child play a game.

Online Games and Online Safety

To learn about internet-connected games with online play, and the safety precautions needed there, please do check out our special guide.